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The School District of Philadelphia on January 26, 2021. Credit: Gary Lin

A recent documentary featured the Netter Center for Community Partnerships' association with the local Paul Robeson High School.

The short film documents the ways Academically Based Community Service courses facilitate connections between Penn and Robeson students in fields such as neuroscience, mathematics, and engineering, as well as programs dedicated to writing and financial literacy, the Netter Center reported. 

Penn and Robeson’s partnership was chosen to be featured in Freethink Media's documentary with the aim of demonstrating the mutual benefits of University-Assisted Community School partnerships, according to the Netter Center.

The Netter Center began working with Robeson shortly after Richard Gordon IV became the school’s principal in 2013, according to Netter Center Associate Director Rita Hodges and Director of Moelis Access Science Richard Carter.

Since then, the program has grown to include ABCS courses, a pipeline program, and Moelis Access Science fellows — undergraduate students who support STEM classrooms.

The partnership hinges on strong teamwork between the Netter Center and Robeson teachers and administrators to determine what programs are best suited to the students, according to Hodges and Carter. 

“[The Netter Center and collaborators] bring all partners to the table to make an iterative implementation and problem-solving practice that we go back to and revise so that it is benefiting all involved, but most particularly our Robeson students,” Hodges said. 

College senior Hakiem Ellison also emphasized the collaborative aspect of the partnership and the symbiotic relationship it helps to forge between Penn and Robeson students.

“As a Philly native, I believe it’s important that Penn is not just an isolated institution. The West Philadelphia community is here, and we’re separated by a couple of street signs,” Ellison said. “I think it’s important just for the relational aspect and because Penn has many resources of which West Philadelphia communities and schools could surely benefit from.”

Founded in 1992, the Netter Center is Penn’s hub for advancing civic and community engagement. Robeson is one of eight University-Assisted Community Schools, which are neighboring West Philadelphia schools ranging from grades K-12 that maintain partnerships with Penn including after-school enrichment programs, according to Hodges. 

Freethink Media is a media company focused on presenting news in an innovative, solution-focused way. This documentary is a part of the company’s “Hack the Dream” series, which features an assortment of short films on how millennials are “redefining the American Dream to be truer to its original intent — to be about freedom to create the life you want.”

Hodges, Carter, and Ellison all hope that the documentary will highlight how attainable it is for schools like Robeson that may face issues with low test scores and graduation rates to improve results when they receive sufficient support and resources.

“[I hope that audiences will] see that it’s not the students that are problematic, but the contexts in which they are schooled,” Carter said. “If we can create and support collaborative efforts and continue to listen to our school partners, we can create positive change for urban school students who have to overcome circumstances that they didn’t create, but that they certainly have to navigate through,” Carter added.